Last year I heard someone refer to R.J. Snell’s book Acedia and Its Discontents in a sermon on slothfulness. I love books related to any of the major themes in Proverbs, so I picked it up and discovered one of the best books I have read in the past year.
Acedia refers to slothfulness, which is more than just laziness. Slothfulness despises our reason for being and rejects God’s good plan for creating us. Slothfulness shirks off responsibilities, caves in to every desire, and focuses solely on the self.
In Acedia and Its Discontents, R.J. Snell helps us understand slothfulness and how we can rediscover the beauty of why God created us. Snell writes from a Catholic perspective, and it shows in a few places in the book, but much of what he says would be affirmed by Christians of all stripes and traditions.
Here are the best from Acedia and Its Discontents.
“Many feverishly obsess about their kids’ athletic and academic accomplishments, stricken with moral shame if they fail to land an internship, but unperturbed at their religious inactivity or sexual activity.” (1)
“It is a mistake to think that sloth is laziness. The slothful might very well be busy doing things. Evagrius claims, in fact, that the slothful are often in a frenzy of pointless action–now this, now that–in their disgust at the actual work given to them by God.” (11)
“All too often work is considered a curse, which it is not. In Scripture work is given to humans even before the fall, and although one result of sin is work’s disorder, it is not itself a curse.”(27)ds
“No other creature bears this weight; certainly our awareness of the task as an obligation and test of our selfhood appears unique, for no other animal loses sleep agonizing over their purpose on earth.” (31)
“If our stance towards the world is one of eager and passionate interest, the world sparkles and captivates,; if we aggressively seek profit and gain, the world appears as a resource; if we are bored, the world fails to engage.” (59)
“No longer a vice afflicting individuals only, acedia has become a cultural reality; nestled deep in the roots of our ways of acting and living, sloth seeps into our loves and lives in virtually every domain, before finally transforming itself into boredom and nihilism.” (61)
“In sloth, we abhor what is there; we abhor what it is; we abhor limits, place, order, being. Our misguided addiction to freedom without truth is a revolt of the self against any charged world which might demand attendance, care, obligation, or respect, and certainly any mandate of working to fill God’s beautiful kingdom.” (63)
“We might actually anticipate the slothful individual and culture to be very busy, and, as the purposelessness and arbitrary nature of their business is revealed, to be ever more distracted, exhausted, and bitter in the unending attempt to express and display freedom without humility before the yokes of place, limit, order. There will not be good work, there will not be the leisure of exultation in the delight of work, but there might be a culture of total work, or the complete victory of grasping, making, producing, developing, buying and selling–and all for naught.” (66)
“Boredom is a heresy, declaring God was wrong when he saw the goodness of the world.” (76)
“As vice, sloth is a failure of love–an aversion to being, a sadness at the good, and an inability to act well. Sloth is not overcome by non-sloth but by the fullness of virtue, by approving or affirming the world, seeing it as God sees it.” (111)
“Too many of us, too often, fantasize about great deeds, imagining accolades to follow, only to give up when the toil and strain of the actual work presents itself.” (114)
“But ordinary work, good work, is about the difficult and good; work is given to us by God, and staying put in the cell is hard. The ordinary is extraordinary. Small things are not trifles.” (114)
‘Sloth’s cure is staying in the cell, remaining yoked to the work God has given, including the universal vocation of the creation mandates, the task of our particular vocations, and the various disciplines of the life well-ordered. We stay in the cell in very concrete ways–keeping the prayers, finishing the report, paying our bills on time, wiping away childish tears, doing the dishes, cleaning the car, caring for our tools–through staying in the quotidian, the mundane ordinary work.” (118)
“We become the people we are by what we choose to do again.” (118)
Our own time seems to imagine that friendship with God is a matter of enthusiasm and emotions, as if God is worshipped only when someone feels like they have worshipped.” (119)
“We meet God in our work, we reach out to his divine friendship when we stay in our cell, loving our place and the goodness residing in its things and tasks and mandates.” (121)
“If we remain at our work we love the world back into graciousness as we refuse sloth’s abhorrence of place, sadness at the good, and refusal to act.” (122)
“The vice of sloth promises life but brings death; the way of the cross demands death but gives life.” (126)
You can read the best quotes from other books here.
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